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Zucchini solutions, in the nick of time


Have you ever seen more zucchini than the piles at farmers markets this summer? Not only was summer's signature squash early this year; it also seems to be growing faster than ever, especially during heat waves. It doubles or triples in size in a few hours, or so it seems.

At the Sebastopol market on Sunday, one farmer was offering it for $1 a pound.

There's great variety, too: pale green, dark green, speckled green, deep yellow and the medium-green ridged Romanesco, which holds up so well during cooking. There are round zucchini as small as pingpong balls and others nearly the size of footballs.

If you wait to unload extras from your garden until Aug. 8, "Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night," you may never get rid of it.

It's tempting to walk outside and invite the gophers: Please, have some zucchini and I won't trap you until fall. If only, eh?

All kidding aside, what we need are really good zucchini recipes and I'm here to help. I've posted links to favorite zucchini recipes from this column's archives at Eat This Now, which you'll find at pantry.pressdemocrat.com. You'll find classic Algerian zucchini, chilled zucchini soup, zucchini pizza, zucchini sandwiches, zucchini frittata and more.

I have advice, too. If you don't have the type of mechanical slicer known as a mandoline, I recommend getting one. You'll find mandolines at most cookware stores and also at Asian markets, such as Asia Mart (2481 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa).

I prefer a mandoline designed for a home kitchen and not for a restaurant, as they are inexpensive, small, easy to operate and store and get the job done perfectly well. A restaurant mandoline is a big, sturdy, pricey workhorse and unless you'll use it all the time, it's overkill for a home cook.

When you purchase a mandoline, be sure it has a julienne blade, which cuts ribbons about the size of spaghetti. A quarter-inch-wide blade, which cuts fettuccine-like ribbons, is good, too. Armed with this and a good box grater, you can transform any size zucchini into something irresistibly delicious.

Tools matter this much? you may ask.

Yes, they do.

I've long realized that texture — how something physically impacts our palates — is nearly as important as the flavors a food imparts. There are precise physiological reasons for this, but you don't need to explore the science to experience it.

You can experiment yourself, if you're the curious sort. To do so, cut a small zucchini into even julienne, preferably with a mandoline. Cut another small zucchini into medium-sized uneven chunks, slice a third small zucchini into quarter-inch rounds and grate a fourth on the large blade of a box grater. Now, take bites of each, one at a time, and refresh your palate with water or another light beverage between bites. As you do so, simply pay attention to how each tastes and feels. It isn't necessary to rate your preference; just explore the physical experience.

There's nothing wrong with any of these shapes. Rather, each is best for certain preparations and not recommended for others. To show zucchini to its best advantage, it is helpful to understand this. For example, I don't care much for chunks or spears of zucchini on pizza. I find them cumbersome and somehow intrusive. However, a pizza of olive oil, minced garlic, grated zucchini and grated cheese is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the summer's bounty of squash.

When it comes to zucchini, I tend to take a less-is-more approach, which is to say that I cook it quickly, with a few exceptions, and rarely add a lot of competing ingredients. Zucchini for zucchini's sake, I say, not zucchini for filler.

Vegetarians should simply omit the chorizo in this recipe, add another zucchini and saute it in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. For a bit of heat, add a minced serrano along with the garlic and saute for 1 minute before adding the pepper and citrus.

<strong>Zucchini-Chorizo Tacos</strong>

<i>Makes 2 to 4 servings</i>

1 medium or 2 small zucchini of choice, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

2 Spanish-style chorizo, preferably from Franco Dunn's One World brand

1 tablespoon olive oil, as needed

2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced

— Black pepper in a mill

— Lime or lemon wedges

— Kosher salt, as needed

4 hand-made-style corn tortillas, hot but not at all crisp

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

— Bottled hot sauce of choice, optional

Cut the zucchini into half-moons about a quarter-inch thick. Set them aside.

Prick the chorizo all over with the tip of a knife or fork.

Set a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, add the chorizo and cook, rolling now and then, until firm. Transfer to a work surface.

Return the pan to medium heat and, if it seems a bit dry, add the olive oil. Add the zucchini and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning it now and then, until it is beginning to become tender but is not yet mushy. Working quickly, cut the chorizo into similarly sized half moons and add to the zucchini, along with the garlic. Toss, season very generously with black pepper and the juice of 1 lemon or lime wedge.

Remove from the heat, taste and season with salt, if needed.

Set the hot tortillas onto individual plates and divide the chorizo-zucchini mixture among them. Sprinkle with cilantro, garnish with lemon or lime wedges and serve immediately, with bottled hot sauce alongside, if you like.

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Spaghetti carbonara is one of Italy's greatest contributions to culinary culture. It is irresistible. When summer squash is in season, I sometimes use it in place of spaghetti and have found recently that zucchini is delicious prepared this way, too, as long is it is cut properly. Those who are avoiding gluten will find this a better substitute than, say, rice noodles.

<strong>Carbonara-Style Zucchini</strong>

<i>Makes 3 to 4 servings</i>

3 ounces pancetta or bacon, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound long thin zucchini, trimmed and cut on a mandoline into thin julienne

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

2 eggs from pastured chickens, at room temperature and beaten

4 ounces grated cheese, such as Weirauch Farms pecorino fresca, Bellwether Farms Toscano, Vella Mezzo Seco or similar cheese

2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

Put the pancetta in a small saute pan set over medium-low heat and cook until almost crisp; add the garlic, cook 1 minute more and remove from the heat.

Working quickly, set a medium saute pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and when it is hot, add the julienned zucchini. Cook, tossing all the while, until the zucchini just loses its raw texture, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and a very generous amount of black pepper. Remove the pan from the heat.

While the zucchini cooks, combine the pancetta and garlic with the beaten eggs and cheese. The moment you pull the pan of zucchini off the stove, add the mixture to the pan and use 2 forks to toss gently but thoroughly. Quickly divide among soup plates, season each portion with a little salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

<i>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.</i>